With over 50 film and television credits to his name, Jamie Foxx is one of the biggest stars in Hollywood. He may have started out as a comedian and sitcom star, but since then, he’s established a permanent presence in the movie industry. Foxx has garnered wins and nominations from every major award show, and his career certainly isn’t slowing down as Project Power was recently released to critical acclaim on Netflix.
Now, with another showstopper under Foxx’s belt after voicing Pixar’s first Black lead in the animated, jazz-centric Soul, it’s the perfect time to reminisce over some of the roles that shaped his career. From biopics to action films, these are Foxx’s most iconic film performances.
Ray Charles, Ray (2004)
While Foxx’s performances in Any Given Sunday and Ali first established his credibility as a dramatic actor, it wasn’t until the Ray Charles biopic Ray that he proved the full range of his acting abilities. Roger Ebert himself gave the performance a glowing review.
“What Foxx gets just right,” said Ebert, “is the physical Ray Charles, and what an extrovert he was … Foxx correctly interprets the musician’s body language as a kind of choreography, in which he was conducting his music with himself, instead of with a baton. Foxx so accurately reflects my own images and memories of Charles that I abandoned thoughts of how much ‘like’ Charles he was and just accepted him as Charles, and got on with the story.”
The power of Foxx’s talent was a surprise even to Foxx himself. After the part of Ray landed him an Oscar nomination for Best Actor, Foxx was ecstatic, but he didn’t think he was good enough to actually get the award. “I thought there was no way to win that,” Foxx later admitted. “I took [Oscar season] as an excuse to party. I was like, ‘Oh, I’m nominated? Break out the champagne and let’s party.'”
It wasn’t until Oprah Winfrey talked to him that Foxx understood he really had a chance and that he needed to take the nomination seriously. Fortunately, he realized his mistake, and in 2005, he won his first Oscar.
Max, Collateral (2004)
In Collateral, Foxx played a kidnapped taxi driver named Max who spends a night driving a hitman (Tom Cruise) around Los Angeles with the authorities on their tail. Foxx received immense critical acclaim for his performance, and with good reason. Foxx allowed his character’s frustrations to build in each scene until they came to their organic peak, leading to a satisfying sequence of events as the finale drew near.
Foxx doesn’t overperform on his character’s anger and fear from the get-go. Rather, he lets the events of the plot and his relationship with his kidnapper shape Max’s arch in a realistic way. According to Peter Travers in Rolling Stone, “If all you know of Foxx is from TV sitcoms and movie drool (Breakin’ All the Rules), you’re in for a shock … Foxx fires up the screen with the power and subtlety … And his teamwork with Cruise is a thing of beauty.” He ended up receiving an Oscar nomination for Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role for this film as well, paving the way for his success in Ray.
Django, Django Unchained (2012)
Jamie Foxx teamed up with director and dubious Australian Quentin Tarantino in Django. He won the eponymous leading role as an escaped slave who teamed up with a bounty hunter (Christoph Waltz) to rescue his wife from a sadistic slaveholder (Leonardo DiCaprio). The film featured Tarantino’s usual witty banter, unique plot framing and unlikely protagonists, and Foxx’s performance managed to shine even in such star-studded company.
Surprisingly, Tarantino tried to recruit Will Smith and Idris Elba to play Django first. Foxx himself was supportive of both actors. However, when Foxx was offered an opportunity to discuss the role with Tarentino in person, he couldn’t turn it down. Along with his pitch, he told Tarantino that he already had riding experience and a horse that could be used on set. The rest is history.
Walter McMillian, Just Mercy (2019)
Just Mercy tells the true story of Bryan Stevenson (Michael B. Jordan), a lawyer seeking justice for those wrongfully sentenced to capital punishment by a racist justice system, and Walter McMillian (Jamie Foxx), his first case. In the opening scene, McMillian is stopped, harassed and arrested by a racist officer, culminating in a heart-wrenching display of terror and grief from Foxx.
While the film received fewer nominations from major award organizations compared to some of Foxx’s earlier work, Fox delivered an emotionally raw performance that nevertheless stood out even against the rest of Fox’s career. Steve Pond, a critic with entertainment news site The Wrap, said, “Foxx has less to say, because McMillian has been beaten down to the point where he initially thinks the young lawyer is wasting his time. It’s the actor’s strongest performance in years as a man who finds a glimmer of light buried beneath layers of hopelessness and defeat.”
Fox had known Jordan “since he was tiny,” so he happily took on the role when Jordan asked. As part of his research into the role, Fox ended up visiting death row in San Quentin Prison and speaking with a former judge who retired due to inequalities he saw in the justice system.